Letter from Tunisia

Roar runs a periodic feature, “Letter From Tunisia,” written by Kemal Benyounes. Kemal is a dual citizen of the United States and Tunisia, is Muslim, blind, and lives in Tunis.  He offers a unique perspective on life in the mideast, the 2016 election of Trump as well as the Arab Spring and ongoing conflicts.  (Revolts recently led to a transition to a constitutional democracy in Tunisia.)

Dear Readers,

Lately, I have become aware of a disturbing trend in Tunisia. More and more shortages in food and medicines are beginning to exert their disruptive forces in Tunisia. When going to the big stores or the Souks and Mom and Pop stores, it is becoming difficult to find commodities such as milk, eggs, and butter. In the way of vegetables; potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and such are either non-existent or very expensive.

As for medications, vital drugs are not to be found. Going to the pharmacy to get a refill on minor and unimportant items such as blood pressure pills or diabetic medications is an adventure. One never knows whether they will be available and even if they are available, they are sometimes only generic meds. The problem with generic medication is that in Tunisia you can never tell if the generic is legitimate or if they are poor copies made in a fly-by-night lab in India. What is the cause of these shortages?

Two things can be attributed to the shortages. The first, with regards to food, a general hording by a few wholesale grocers in order to drive up the price. What does the “democratically” elected government do about this? Not much. In fact it seems as if some of the higher-placed governmental officials are participating in this price gouging; of course, in exchange for some financial considerations by those involved in the black market.

Much as it annoys some especially in the new kleptocracy, there is widespread regret at the deposition of the old regime in the name of some utopian ideal of democracy. It is becoming more apparent that the “Tunisian revolution” was instigated by the well-to-do with assistance from outside parties. Their aim, and it seems they have succeeded, was to gain a tighter grip on the Tunisian people.

As far as the situation with the medication, because of the slowdown in productivity, the consequence is less money coming to the government. Or so we are told. There is less money to buy medications from abroad.

This is a problem for your humble correspondent as I rely on some of the scarcer medications. As I said before, the generic meds that are available are not very reliable so I hardly know whether they are working or not. Eventually, I will know, as will my fellow Tunisians, one way or the other.

From my vantage point, this is such a poorly managed country that the health, welfare, and education of the people is being badly compromised. So much money in grants and loans have come to Tunisia to help with the Transition from the Ben Ali Regime to “democracy,” yet there is nothing to show for this. There have been few improvements in the infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals that would have put many of the young unemployed to work, thus beginning to ease the burden of massive unemployment in the country.

Instead, the solution seems to be that civil servants need to be retired early with a negligible lump sum severance. The expectation is that clearing out these people will enable the government to hire some of the younger unemployed. So, the question arises: what will these early retirees do when the money runs out? Some of the folks will be retired as early as 55. All I can say is this is nuts.

What is being done to the education system is something that begs description. It seems as if every six months a new curriculum with a new schedule, either adding or removing holidays and exams. Right now there is a struggle between strengthening the religious influence in the curriculum or leaving it as it is. To my way of thinking, we need less religion, which breeds fanatics, and more courses in Math and Science.

Under the old regime, there was a legitimate and good faith attempt to help the disabled find independence and dignity through working and self-reliance. Now it is to the point that I can no longer find where to get even a white cane, much less assistance to find work. It is very difficult to see where positive change is going to come from but I hold out hope that it arrives.

Until my next letter, take care and take action.



Kemal Benyounces is a 51-year-old, blind, duel citizen living in Tunisia. He graduated from Towson State University with a BS in Political Science and History. He moved to Tunisia to have better support for his disability. Kemal is married with two children. Kemal can be reached at: kemalbenyounes@gmail.com.

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